Tiny plastic, huge risk
After a day out in the dirt and dust, you might want to use a face wash to clean up but such cleansing products are dirtying up the environment. And the culprits are tiny plastic beads in the products known as microbeads.
Microbeads are non-biodegradable, cheap tiny plastic particles, that pose serious threat to the environment, and human and animal health, experts say.
A study, titled “Microbeads Pollution Scenario in Bangladesh”, published yesterday, says the particles might have revolutionised your home beauty care, but they have that dark side.
Environment and Social Development Organisation (ESDO), a body working on environment and development, conducted the study which says 60 most popular and commonly used beauty and cleaning products in Bangladesh, including face wash, detergent, body wash, nail polish, toothpaste, and face and body scrub contain these harmful microbeads.
Every month, around 8,000 billion microbeads flow to the water bodies in and around three major cities -- Dhaka, Chittagong and Sylhet, according to the study.
In Dhaka city alone, approximately 7,000 billion microbeads get in the surrounding water bodies and wastelands. In Chittagong city, the number is some 1,000 billion while it is around 200 billion in Sylhet city.
The particles flow through the sewers and make their way into canals and rivers and finally reach the seas and oceans, where they contribute to the so called Plastic Soup.
This washed-down plastics fragment into smaller particles, polluting ocean water at many places giving rise to the term plastic soup. In addition, toxins are released from the plastic. All sorts of organisms living in or off the sea take in plastic debris and microplastic for food, says the Plastic Soup Foundation, a Netherlands based organisation working to raise awareness about the issue.
Microbeads are too small to be separated by the filters at the sewage treatment plants.
The study also shows face wash used by both males and females is the major source of microbeads pollution in Bangladesh.
Detergent is the next major source of the pollution. About 50 percent of the households in Bangladesh use detergents containing microbeads.
Toothpaste amounts for up to 25 percent of the total pollution, says the study, adding a portion of the microbeads remain in the mouths and bodies of users.
ESDO Secretary General Shahriar Hossain said they examined 100 fish samples of five species -- catfish, rui, katla, mrigal, hilsa, and sarputi -- and found microbeds in them.
"Our team members have done the test. But the presence of microbeads in fish can be noticed even with bare eyes.”
Asked, he said consuming such fish might have adverse impact on human health.
The study says the plastic particles are linked to heart disease, brain deterioration, cancer and obesity. They also cause harm to the skin and teeth.
Mentioning that the UK government has announced plans to ban microbeads used in cosmetics and cleaning products by 2017, the ESDO demanded that the Bangladesh government formulate a law to ban products with microbeads in the country.
UN Environment Programme (Unep) urges a precautionary approach towards microplastic management, with an eventual phase out and ban of their use in personal care products and cosmetics.
Prof Mohammad Shoeb of Chemistry department at Dhaka University said microbeads are harmful for the health and environment as these small plastic particles are pollutants.
"As microbeads flow to the water bodies through the drains, they affect the marine lifecycle and contaminate the water. Small aquatic organisms eat microbeads that ultimately affect their digestive system and affect the ecosystem adversely," he said.
There are natural sources of scrubbing and exfoliating agents like groundnut shells and salt crystals but over the years cheap plastic microbeads have replaced the bio-degradable alternatives.